BYU Embraces The Past

Over the weekend, Coach Bronco Mendenhall appealed to those who made BYU football great for their support in efforts to restore a winning tradition to Provo. LaVell Edwards, Chad Lewis, Jamal Willis, Vai Sikahema, Jason Buck, Lee Johnson and Rob Morris were among the Cougar alumni who answered the call.

The lights were dim as alumni and current players along with media and boosters filled the Cougar Room at LaVell Edwards Stadium waiting to see what lay beneath a shroud covered display. The suspense was soon ended as BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall together with former head coach LaVell Edwards uncovered new uniforms that capture the look associated with the glory days of Cougar football.

"We're really getting closer to a great looking uniform," joked Lavell Edwards. "I saw the helmet a week ago. I actually like the helmet better than I did the old one, and I think this uniform, I like that as well. I like getting the names on the back and stripes and staying with the thing that we had for so many years and I think even the color is going to grow on you and become real good too."

What a few little quips, the man who put BYU football on the map had disarmed all in attendance. For just a minute everything was as it had been; the coach was up front rallying the Cougar faithful as he had done on so many occasions before. But this time it was Edwards' turn to instill confidence in the man that has the task of restoring the success this proud program had once enjoyed.

"I think it is really significant, what Bronco's trying to do, and what he's set upon to do," Edwards said. "One thing about it, he's unwavering and has an idea in mind of what he wants and what he's trying to accomplish. I know he's got all the effort and work and everything else that goes into it. I just feel real good in the way I see the direction the program is going."

Edwards canceled a few meetings that day just to be a part of Mendenhall's effort to embrace the past and reestablish old ties and traditions.

"Well basically that's what tradition is," said Edwards. "It's what's happened in the past and what you've done with it over the years and we had that tradition going. I think we can recapture it and I think we're heading in that direction again and I think it's going to work out fine.

"I think with the uniform it's one step that's not in and of itself is going to make all that much of a different but the thing now is that we are getting back to an identity. We had no identity over the last few years because we kept changing uniforms every year, and now you can flash on Sports Center and right away pick up the fact that this is BYU which hasn't been the case."

On hand for the press conference was former BYU tight end Chad Lewis wha has spent the last eight seasons with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Lewis was happy to see his former coach and feel the warmth and familiarity only Edwards could bring.

"What an honor it was for me to play for LaVell Edwards," said Lewis. "I don't think there's ever been a better coach at any level of football because he cared first and foremost about you as a person. A lot of people say that but he's different. He did it right here and I'm so proud and I can't believe I'm his friend. I grew up watching and listening to him on T.V and radio and the guy's a living miracle."

Like many former players under former Coach Edwards, Lewis has followed the program over the past few years with interest and concern.

"Now Bronco is doing things the right way and I don't care if BYU only wins two games this year because he's building a foundation on top of what was already here and he's going to do it the right way and he's going to have a lot of success," said Lewis. "I've been to the practices and I think he's outstanding. He doesn't care who you are. His thing is, no one is entitled to special privileges on the practice field. He doesn't care if you're a scholarship player or a walk-on. He wants all of your heart and that's how he wants his team to play and they will."

Jason Buck, a former BYU defensive lineman turned Washington Redskins star was also in attendance. Buck echoed the comments of Edwards and Lewis. He believes that Coach Mendenhall is moving this team into the right direction by embracing the BYU football legacy.

"I think any university and any great football program has to build upon the past and tradition," said Buck. "When we left to go on to different careers whether it was to play football or other things in life our brotherhood never ended."

With Coach Mendenhall's outreach to former BYU football players in a move to get the past more involved with the present, Buck feels Mendenhall is adding upon that BYU brotherhood.

"I think to be a great program you have to use that as the foundation for the program, and really to see Bronco come back to that really has this brotherhood excited," Buck said. "Now that they've opened up their arms to embrace us and welcome us back they'll start to see a little more of us around. It was a little odd in the past you know, the past few years especially, that we weren't quite welcomed to be around and around the facilities and all that. I'll definitely be around and make an effort to be around more and in any way help out. All of us are willing to help out any time, any way, and in any form and we're a great resource for them to call upon,"

Buck also weighed in on the new uniforms and how he feels they are an improvement over those worn by Cougar teams in recent years. "Well we were all complaining about the new uniforms, he said. "I could never get used to that and every game I went to I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this doesn't even look like us anymore.' We were all hoping for this and to bring this all back, not only our past but the tradition, the uniforms and I think this is all intertwined for the Alumni all over the world. I mean it just brings us all over the world back together by building upon the old foundation that was part of BYU's tradition."

Former BYU running back Jamal Willis agreed with Buck's comments on embracing the brotherhood of BYU football past to mentor present and future team members.

"You're reestablishing those old ties and I think it's funny because even with the guys that played way before me, we share a common bond," said Willis. "We may not know each other but we share a common bond. We may know each other by name only, but to be back here it's a family. It's a BYU family. That's one thing, you many not have grown up watching them but you've heard about them, and that's kind of like when I got here. I didn't know much about the tradition of BYU and I had to learn it from guys who played here before me and I think that's a good thing and we're trying to show the guys that are here currently.

"The one thing that Bronco is bringing, I mean, he is just bring back the tradition, but one thing he wanted to do is focused on the past, and bring a lot of the Alumni back to really be mentors for the football team and show him how it's done. Bronco works accountability, work hard and it's one thing to tell them about tradition but now they can see it. I think Bronco's done a great job by getting this team in touch with the past and Bronco has done a great job restoring that."

Coach Edwards summed up the feelings of the team alumni when he said, "I feel great about Bronco and about this football team, and I know they are going to represent us in a way we would like to have done and be able to go out and win a few ball games."

From a man who knows how to get it done, those words should come as welcome encouragement to fans who are anxious to cheer on a winner again.

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